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Cannabis, identity and the male teenage friendship group

Lamb, Jonathan David (2011) Cannabis, identity and the male teenage friendship group. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Cannabis continues to be the most widely used illicit drug, usually used recreationally without significant problems occurring. Concerns remain over long term health of users and the possibility of associations with mental illness. Surveys suggest regular use remains common amongst teenage males, taking place concurrently with the period when teenagers are engaged in identity development and making the transition to adult life. The thesis is based on qualitative interviews and ethnographic observation of two cohorts of male teenagers and interviews with a group in their late twenties reflecting on their teenage use. Methods and analysis draw pragmatically on ethnography and grounded theory, developing interpretations inductively before moving to relate the concepts generated to existing theory. Cannabis was smoked predominantly in the context of an extended social group. While the majority reported enjoying the effects of cannabis, smoking with this group was particularly valued for the social contexts it facilitated and maintained. Within these groups three orientations to use were observed differentiated by individuals level of commitment to cannabis, and their understanding of the functions of use. The teenagers saw cannabis use as a transitory phase which they expected to cease as adult roles were acquired, though this was considered a difficult and potentially protracted process. Adapting to an unchosen extended adolescence involved maintaining proxy roles, in which nascent aspects of identities could be expressed and developed. Social roles and relationships acted as a containers for the display and reflection of aspects of identity. The group provided a non-contingent context allowing for identity exploration, play and development. The contingency of closer ongoing familial and social roles limited opportunities for such exploration. Previous identity research has stressed close contingent relationships, the analysis suggests several mechanisms relating cannabis use to the importance of non-contingent relationships in times of identity transition.

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